AS I SEE IT - 3/28/2001
It wouldn't be an overexaggeration to call this the most newsworthy week in the
modern history of professional wrestling.
First, on March 19th, new Chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting Jamie Kellner ended 30 years of Turner-originated/sponsored professional wrestling with his canceling of Monday Nitro on TNT and Thunder on TBS.
Then, on March 20th, Fusient Media Ventures withdrew from negotiations to purchase WCW, due to Kellner's decision to pull wrestling from TBS and TNT.
On March 21st, the Pro Wrestling Torch reported that the WWF was back in the hunt to purchase, and on March 22nd was the first outlet to break the story that WWF Entertainment has purchased WCW.
WCW staff were officially notified by Brad Siegel on March 23rd that the purchase had taken place.
This brings us to this past Monday night.
Even though what was happening Monday had once been rumored weeks before (prior to what everyone concerned thought was a sale to Fusient Media Ventures), and even though we had already talked about it in this column... actually seeing it officially in print had to blow away wrestling fans worldwide:
"STAMFORD, Conn., March 23, 2001 - World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE: WWF) today announced its purchase of the World Championship Wrestling (WCW) brand from Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. (TBS Inc.), a division of AOL Time Warner.
The purchase of WCW creates a tag team partnership with the World Wrestling Federation brand that is expected to propel the sports entertainment genre to new heights.
In keeping with the company's strategic alliance with Viacom, new WCW programming is anticipated to air on TNN in the near future. The possibility of cross-brand storylines and intrigue, however, may start as early as Monday night during WWF Raw Is War on TNN and the final performance of WCW Monday Nitro Live on Turner Network Television (TNT)...
'...This acquisition is the perfect creative and business catalyst for our company,' said Linda McMahon, Chief Executive Officer of World Wrestling Federation Entertainment. 'This is a dream combination for fans of sports entertainment. The incendiary mix of World Wrestling Federation and WCW personalities potentially creates intriguing storylines that will attract a larger fan base to the benefit of our advertisers and business partners, and propel sports entertainment to new heights.' "
Then to see Vince McMahon open the final episode of Turner-originated wrestling television ever with:
"Imagine that. Me, Vince McMahon, here . . . on WCW television. How can that happen? There is only one way . . . and it was just a matter of time before I bought my competition. That's right, I own WCW.
Therefore, in its final broadcast tonight on TNT, I have the opportunity to address you, the WCW fans and WCW superstars. What is the fate of WCW? Well, tonight in a special simulcast you will all find out. The fate of WCW is in my hands!"
Then, to actually see Shane McMahon in the ring at Panama City, Florida, on the final night of wrestling on Turner Broadcasting as the "new owner of WCW"...all of these happenings were so surreal as to defy description. So many other people and so many websites have said much the same thing this week.
But with all of the excitement, comes concern for the wrestling industry. While many will continue to work for the McMahon-owned WCW, there are those within WCW who have worked for decades in the old NWA and WCW who likely saw their careers end on Monday night.
Yes, Shane McMahon held a talent meeting with wrestlers and office personnel on Monday afternoon prior to Nitro, and said WCW would be run as a fully operational promotion within WWFE; with "everyone having a shot to remain with WCW".
While Vince McMahon is reported to have said to WWFE staff on Monday that he could have let WCW go under, and said he did not want to see people with families to feed with no other options for work on a national scale; there are those who will suffer exactly that fate. An obvious example was Vince McMahon basically giving live, on-air notice to Jeff Jarrett, Road Warrior Animal, and Dustin Rhodes during his promo.
Then, today, the meeting occurred where WCW staff were officially informed by Time-Warner that WCW would cease to exist as a company, and that all staff were all being laid off. They were to turn in all equipment immediately, and go to their offices and collect their personal belongings. WWF staff told the workers that they could apply for jobs within the Stamford WWF offices.
As I said last week, there are those within WCW who I've met over the years, and who I worry about in the short term: Jeremy Borash, Gary Juster, a number of the wrestlers...and yes, Bob Ryder. Many of them may not land the same sorts of positions in the WWF-owned WCW.
There's one more person I have to feel a little sorry for, though I've never met him. Even though he was largely responsible for the most recent hemorrhaging of millions, and is responsible for the still-outstanding racism lawsuit against WCW which Time-Warner will have to handle; you had to feel a little sorry for Vince Russo, who called into last night's finale of the WCW Live online show as "Vincent from New Jersey." While Jeremy Borash and Bob Ryder didn't directly acknowledge Russo's identity, they allowed him to say goodbye in a short, emotional farewell.
As for the in-ring workers, salaries will be lower for many of those who are hired by Vince McMahon. The Time-Warner contract buyouts for talent ranges from 30 to 70 cents on the dollar. Others have contracts that are not guaranteed, which will likely result in renegotiation into WWF-style contracts with lower guarantees within the next three months.
For those who aren't hired, while independent promoters will no doubt seek some of those available. But it's pretty obvious that none of them will be paying TBS level salaries.
The wild card in all of this is Eric Bischoff. Bischoff did not attend Nitro, and rumors persist that he will seek to form another promotion. For such a promotion, if it is formed, to provide a real financial alternative to wrestlers, he'll need the backing of a Rupert Murdoch or those with similarly deep pockets.
So an era ended Monday night, and another began, or will begin within a few weeks, when WCW programming resumes in a new form on TNN. For those few remaining who hadn't figured it out, the ending of an era was made clear at the end of Nitro by the following...
It is ironic that at 9:58 pm Eastern Standard Time, the last two voices ever to be heard on a Turner-originated wrestling broadcast were Jim Ross and Paul Heyman.
It was both ironic and perhaps appropriate, when you consider that Jim Ross had been pushed out the door years back as a victim of WCW's eternal political struggles, and more recently viciously ridiculed by Ed Ferrera via the "Oklahoma" gimmick. Paul Heyman, of course, saw ECW stripped of its talent beginning in 1995.
But as Vince McMahon (in character?) said in his landmark simulcast promo on Monday night: "He who laughs last, laughs best."
I imagine Jim Ross and Paul Heyman are at least having a chuckle right now.
But there are quite a few people right now working for WCW who aren't.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)